This week’s reading for Reading Classics Together at Challies.com was chapter 4, The Problem of Forgiveness from John Stott’s The Cross of Christ. This chapter tackles the question of why it is impossible for God to forgive us without Christ’s sacrifice for sin. Why can’t God just forgive us in the same way that we are required to forgive others?
Stott gives two quick answers and then uses the rest of the chapter to explain them more. Anyone who thinks it God can just forgive us without the sacrifice of his Son does not yet understand the gravity of our sin or the majesty of God.
The problem of forgiveness is constituted by the inevitable collision between divine perfection and human rebellion, between God as he is and us as we are.
In order to carefully examine these two things—the seriousness of sin and the majesty of God—Stott takes the bulk of this chapter to think through four biblical ideas with the reader.
- The Gravity of Sin: “Every sin is a breach of what Jesus called ‘the first and great commandment,’ not just by failing to love God with all our being but by actively refusing to acknowledge and obey him as our Creator and Lord. … Sin is not a regrettable lapse from conventional standards; its essence is hostility to God (Rom. 8:7), issuing in active rebellion against him.”
- Human Moral Responsibility: “…Scripture invariably treats us as morally responsible agents. … Our responsibility before God is an inalienable aspect of our human dignity.”
- True and False Guilt: “The Bible takes sin seriously because it take humanity seriously. As we have seen, Christians do not deny the fact—in some circumstances—of diminished capacity, but we affirm that diminished responsibility always entails diminished humanity. … [T]o be punished, however severely, because we have deserved it, because we ‘ought to know better,’ is to be treated as a human person made in God’s image.”
- God’s Holiness and Wrath: God’s wrath “is his holy reaction to evil.” “God’s holiness exposes sin; his wrath opposes it.” Stott lists a few metaphors used in the Bible to illustrate for us that “sin cannot approach God” and that “God cannot tolerate sin.” First, God is said to be high, which the biblical authors use to show his transcendence (or “otherness”). Second, God is far away from us, so that sinners cannot approach him. Then there are light and fire, two things that make close approach impossible. Last, there is the metaphor of sinners being vomited, showing that God finds sin repulsive.
Those who have a biblical view of God’s wrath and human sin understand the need for the cross. Our sin and God’s wrath stand in the way of our forgiveness, and some sort of satisfaction for sin is necessary. That takes us to next week’s reading, chapter 5, Satisfaction for Sin.
I have a friend and I love to watch her eat. Every bite is a bit of joy. If I were to bring her a couple of cherry tomatoes from my patio tomato plants, she’d look them over. “Oh my,” she’d say, “aren’t those beautiful.” And she’d smell them and pick one up with her long piano fingers and pop it in her mouth. Then she’d chew it in slow motion. “So sweet. Absolutely lovely.”
When we go on hikes, she stops at every wildflower, remembering what it is called and remarking on its color. Everything takes longer and sometimes, though I try not to show it, I grow impatient. But mostly I find her delight in the simple gifts to be contagious.
She had very little when she was a child and she is thankful for everything. I put those two phrases in one sentence because I believe they are related. Having in abundance can make contentment hard to come by. When much is given, much may be expected, or even, perhaps, demanded. But those who have little know everything is a gift.
Sometimes when I put my Thankful Thursday posts together, I am embarrassed that there is so much ordinary and so little extraordinary. I worry that it might be boring. Not to me, because when I write, for instance, “I’m thankful for fresh cabbage from the garden,” I really am thankful for my cabbage. After all, I planted the seedlings and watched them grow. I saw the heads form and become more compact through the weeks. I’ve held that perfect head of garden cabbage in my hands; I smelled it; I know it’s a beautiful thing. But the reader? Why would anyone else care about my cabbage?
But I’ve learned from my friend to be thankful for simple things. Her delight is contagious; maybe mine will be, too. I also hope that I am learning, like Paul, that
we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content (1 Timothy 6:7-8 ESV).
What is contentment but settled thanksgiving for the gifts God has given us? Doesn’t being content with food and clothing mean being so thankful to our heavenly Father for providing them that we do not yearn—at least too much—for more?
So yes, I’m thankful for the cabbage in my garden and the cabbage in my fridge. God provided them to sustain me and to give me joy.
And maybe he gave them to me to teach me a few things about himself. Don’t my cabbages demonstrate that there is design in the rhythm of the created order? The summer rain and summer sun do their work and I have tasty cabbages that display in their own small way the purposeful nature of God who keeps things rolling along. What’s more, they assure me that this God who accomplishes what he decides to do takes care of his creatures, including me.
A simple gift is never just a simple gift. I’m thankful for that, too.
Throughout this year I’m planning to post a few thoughts of thanksgiving each Thursday along with Kim at the Upward Call and others.
The statement produced by the Council of Chalcedon in A. D. 451 that has been regarded by most branches of Christianity as the orthodox definition of the biblical teaching on the person of Christ;1 also called the Chalcedonian Creed.
- Text of the Chalcedonian Definition:
We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach men to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable [rational] soul and body; consubstantial [co-essential] with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial with us according to the Manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God, according to the Manhood; one and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one Person and one Subsistence, not parted or divided into two persons, but one and the same Son, and only begotten, God the Word, the Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning [have declared] concerning Him, and the Lord Jesus Christ Himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.
- From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem:
Some have said that that Chalcedonian definition really did not define for us in any positive way what the person of Christ actually is, but simply told us several things that it is not. In this way some have said that it is not a very helpful definition. But such an accusation is misleading and inaccurate. The definition actually did a great deal to help us understand the biblical teaching correctly. It taught that Christ definitely has two natures, a human nature and a divine nature. It taught that his divine nature is exactly the same as that of the Father (consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead”). And it maintained that the human nature is exactly like our human nature, yet without sin (“consubstantial with the Father according to the Godhead”). Moreover, it affirmed that in the person of Christ the human nature retains its distinctive characteristics and the divine nature retains its distinctive characteristics (“the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved”). Finally, it affirms that, whether we can understand it or not, these two natures are united together in the one person of Christ.
- Theopedia: Chalcedonian Creed
- Justin Holcomb: The Creed of Chalcedon
- Nick Needham: Truly God, Truly Man: The Council of Chalcedon
- Charles Biggs: Christological Heresies and the Council of Chalcedon
- Melinda Penner: The Interaction of Philosophy and Theology in the Development of the Trinity and Christology at Nicaea and Chalcedon (pdf)
- James White: The Trinity, the Definition of Chalcedon, and Oneness Theology
1From Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem.
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